Build a Bridge

Build a Bridge

4.0 1
by Audra McDonald

Ever since she emerged in the 1990s as a major vocal talent, Audra McDonald has made a specialty of blurring the boundaries between popular and art songs. And as her fans will be pleased to hear, Build a Bridge -- the four-time Tony winner's fourth solo album and first in as many years -- is just as far-ranging and genre-defying…  See more details below


Ever since she emerged in the 1990s as a major vocal talent, Audra McDonald has made a specialty of blurring the boundaries between popular and art songs. And as her fans will be pleased to hear, Build a Bridge -- the four-time Tony winner's fourth solo album and first in as many years -- is just as far-ranging and genre-defying as her previous work. Casting a net across the wide world of pop, McDonald hauls in songs from artists as diverse as Randy Newman, Neil Young, and Elvis Costello, while also drawing on numbers from tunesmiths Rufus Wainwright, John Mayer, and Adam Guettel, among others. Guettel (of Light in the Piazza fame) provides two songs -- the titular "Build a Bridge" and the touching "Dividing Day," exquisitely accompanied by jazz pianist Fred Hersch -- while from the innovative songwriter Laura Nyro comes another pair: "To a Child" and the playful "Tom Cat Goodbye." Even "Bein' Green," Kermit the Frog's familiar signature tune, finds a place here, coming off as a poignant album highlight. McDonald's classy delivery and lustrous tone knit the disparate material into a thoroughly convincing whole, backed by a chamber band that shifts from simple keyboard to guitars and percussion to strings on the Randy Newman closer, "I Think It's Going to Rain Today." Another McDonald showcase that's as fresh as it is enjoyable, Build a Bridge spans musical categories and brilliantly ties it all together.

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Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - William Ruhlmann
Audra McDonald's third solo album was called Happy Songs, which wasn't entirely an accurate description of the contents. Her fourth CD, Build a Bridge, might have been called Unhappy Songs, since it consists largely of compositions with lovelorn lyrics. But a better way to think of it is as her take on music of the rock era. A Juilliard-educated star of Broadway musicals and plays, McDonald has built her solo recording career carefully, beginning with an album largely devoted to upcoming theater music composers (Way Back to Paradise, 1998), followed by one that looked back to earlier ones like Harold Arlen (How Glory Goes, 2000), and then Happy Songs (2002), on which she covered interwar pop standards associated with predecessors such as Ethel Waters. Even on the second and third discs, she managed to find room for more songs by her favorites among the new Broadway writers, particularly Adam Guettel and Michael John LaChiusa, and she does again on Build a Bridge; in fact, the title song is by Guettel. But the other songwriting names include such familiar pop
ock figures as Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, John Mayer, Nellie McKay, Laura Nyro, Randy Newman, Rufus Wainwright, and Neil Young. Such writers present a special challenge to an interpretive artist because they are all performers themselves and because, as pop artists, their own versions of their songs are often well known. Song choice becomes a paramount concern in such a situation; one wants to find songs that are good, appropriate to one's voice, and yet not too familiar. McDonald is successful in her choices until she nears the end of the disc. "God Give Me Strength," the opener, may be the best known of Bacharach and Costello's collaborations, but still isn't ubiquitous, and McDonald has little trouble giving it a strong reading that contrasts well with Costello's. The same can be said of Mayer's "My Stupid Mouth," which may be his best-written song even if it isn't his best known, and which works well translated into a woman's sensibility. "My Heart" turned up on Young's 1994 album Sleeps with Angels, but many listeners will be encountering it for the first time here, and it's a real find. So is Wainwright's tango tribute/lament to female opera characters, "Damned Ladies." These songs fit in beautifully with Guettel's "Build a Bridge" and "Dividing Day," as well as Ricky Ian Gordon's "Cradle and All," which are typically art-song-oriented works for these theater composers. And Nyro's "To a Child" from her 1984 album Mother's Spiritual is just obscure enough to offer an opportunity for a fresh interpretation from McDonald. That's the tenth track, and the album would have been better off stopping right there. Track 11, "Bein' Green," has, of course, been done to death already, an awful fate for a song that always depended on its very slightness and whimsical absurdity for its appeal. There is no hint of Kermit the Frog here; McDonald gives the song a humorless reading that leans heavily on its racial metaphor to disastrous effect. Even worse is Track 12, Nyro's "Tom Cat Goodbye" from her 1969 album New York Tendaberry. This is one of those Nyro songs nobody has tried to cover for good reason. It's a mad, impressionistic medley that Nyro put across through sheer passion, but probably far too personal and obscure for anyone else to perform effectively. McDonald never gets a handle on it. She regroups at the end of the album with a version of Newman's "I Think It's Gonna Rain Today" that sensibly uses his arrangement, although she never convinces the listener that she has anything new to bring to the song. All of which just goes to show that, as has been true since the mid-'60s, when many songwriters began singing their own songs instead of turning them over to professional singers, it's hard for those professional singers to find material they can make their own. McDonald actually has been more successful than most, by largely eschewing the work of pop singer/songwriters until now. Even here, she has made some good choices of material and interpretation before blundering at the end.
San Francisco Chronicle - David Wiegand
You sometimes have to work a bit to get McDonald, but the journey has never been as worthwhile as it is here. Her song choices on "Building a Bridge" are as brilliant as her delivery.
New York Magazine - Peter G. Davis
McDonald lives very much in the present to create her own traditions, and her easy identification with the material vibrates in every note she sings.... Every expressive gesture has a wonderful immediacy, while the program itself is flawlessly organized, strung together like a rope of pearls without one jewel out of place. Brava diva.

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Product Details

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Audra McDonald   Primary Artist,Vocals
Fred Hersch   Piano
Karen Dreyfus   Viola
Sandra Park   Violin,String Quartet
Shawn Pelton   Percussion,Drums
Dan Petty   Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar
Doug Petty   Organ,Piano,Accordion
Erik Ralske   French Horn
Jay Bellerose   Percussion
Antoine Silverman   Violin
Ted Sperling   Piano
Peter Donovan   Bass
Sharon Yamada   Violin
Robert Rinehart   Viola,String Quartet
Elizabeth Dyson   Cello
Lisa Kim   Violin,String Quartet
Nick Cords   Viola
Jung Sun Yoo   Violin
Jon Manasse   Clarinet
Anja Wood   Cello
Gilmar Gomes   Percussion
Alan Stepansky   Cello,String Quartet
Soohyun Kwon   Violin

Technical Credits

Elvis Costello   Composer
Michael McDonald   Engineer
Randy Newman   Arranger,Composer
Laura Nyro   Composer
Neil Young   Composer
Fred Hersch   Arranger,Producer
Burt Bacharach   Composer
Robert Hurwitz   Executive Producer
Dan Petty   Arranger,Engineer
Doug Petty   Arranger,Producer,Audio Production
Joe Raposo   Composer
Todd Whitelock   Engineer
Jane Kelly Williams   Composer
Rufus Wainwright   Composer
Michael Wilson   Cover Photo
Adam Guettel   Composer
Ted Sperling   Arranger,Producer,Music Direction
Barbara de Wilde   Cover Design
Ricky Ian Gordon   Composer
Jessica Molaskey   Composer
Nellie McKay   Composer

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Build a Bridge 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago